The Links, Incorporated is an international, not-for-profit corporation, established in 1946. The membership consists of nearly 14,000 professional women of color in 281 chapters located in 41 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. It is one of the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of extraordinary women who are committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry. The Nashville Chapter was chartered in 1952 and celebrates 63 years of service to the Nashville community.
The members of The Links, Incorporated are influential decision makers and opinion leaders. The Links, Inc. has attracted many distinguished women who are individual achievers and have made a difference in their communities and the world. They are business and civic leaders, role models, mentors, activists and volunteers who work towards a common vision by engaging like-minded organizations and individuals for partnership. Links members contribute more than 500,000 documented hours of community service annually – strengthening their communities and enhancing the nation. The organization is the recipient of awards from the UN Association of New York and the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation for its premier programs.
The outstanding programming of The Links, Incorporated has five facets which include Services to Youth, The Arts, National Trends and Services, International Trends and Services and Health and Human Services. The programs are implemented through strategies such as public information and education, economic development, and public policy campaigns.
The Nashville Chapter
In the summer of 1952, Sarah Strickland Scott co-founder and first President of the Links, Incorporated, vacationed with Mrs. Bess Faulkner (wife of Fisk Chaplain William J. Faulkner) and Mrs. Alberta Bontemps (wife of Fisk Librarian Arna Bontemps) in Wildwood, New Jersey. Over the course of the summer Mrs. Scott shared her vision of African-American women using links of friendship to provide community service at a local, national, and global level. She invited these two Nashville matrons to start the first Nashville based chapter of the Links, Incorporated.
When Bess returned to Nashville she met with four additional friends - Georgia Boyd, Margaret Simms, Mildred Freeman and Elizabeth Walker - to discuss the possibility of starting a chapter. The six were unanimous in agreeing the there should be a Nashville Links Chapter.
On November 17, 1952 a meeting of Nashville’s leading African-American women was held at Goodwill Manor, the home of Mrs. Ivanetta Davis and her husband Walter who was President of Tennessee A & I (now Tennessee State University) to launch a Nashville chapter. At the inaugural meeting these founding ladies discussed issues such as the mission, membership and what impact The Nashville Chapter of the Links, Incorporated would have on the city.
Highlights of the first year included honoring outstanding citizens of Nashville, hosting an exhibition at the Fisk University gallery highlighting the work of an art student from McKissack Elementary School and holding a workshop on parliamentary procedure at McKissack for parents.
Early fundraising efforts by the Nashville Chapter resulted in significant gifts to the Nashville NAACP, the National Urban League, the YMCA, The United Negro College Fund, the Red Cross, Clover Bottom, and the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation.
In April 17, 1974 the Nashville chapter established the John W. Work II Memorial Foundation to sponsor and research the study of African American music. The chapter later held a fundraising banquet featuring Marion Anderson as speaker. In 1983, the Nashville Chapter organized The College Trust Fund, an organization with the purpose of endowing a scholarship fund for the four historically African American colleges and universities in Nashville - Fisk University, Meharry Medical College, Tennessee State University and American Baptist College.
In the late 1980’s as the chapter evolved into an organization that included many women who were highly trained professionals working outside of their homes including physicians, lawyers, professors, and school administrators there was a shift away from supporting the programs of others toward creating programs informed by chapter expertise. From 1987-1997 the Nashville Chapter co-sponsored and staffed the nationally recognized I Have a Future Program. Designed as a community comprehensive health initiative serving children fro 6-17 years of age the success of the program has been recognized by the Charles S. Johnson foundation and the White House. Building from that success we also created Project Lead: High Expectations an intervention based in the Edgehill Community Center focused on at risk teen girls.
In the 21st century The Nashville Chapter renewed and deepened commitment to service and to friendship. We circled back to areas of earlier focus and earned an award for health interventions in at risk-communities. We also strengthened the links of friendship that make it possible to serve by creating programs supporting Link sisters in setting, achieving, and sustaining personal health and wellness goals.
In 2017, under the guidance of President Gail Williams, building on sixty-five years of history, we expanded a program established by a single facet, under the leadership of then President Sharon Robeson, The Ivanetta Davis Rosebud Society (which provides multi-dimensional mentorship to girls of color in Nashville) into an umbrella project supported by all five facets: Services to Youth, The Arts, National Trends and Service, International Trends and Services, and Health and Human Services.
The Nashville Chapter approaches the third decade of the 21st century recommitting to bringing the arts, positive health interventions, academic tutoring, global awareness, positive role models, college preparedness, STEM and STEAM immersion, into the lives of girls of color to make a positive difference. By taking a true 360 degree perspective made possible by involvement of all five facets and by creating a distinct and streamlined organizational structure, we seek to create a program that reflects the spirit of the chapter—a spirit of empowerment, elegance, and efficiency.
In 1986 25th National Assembly of the Links, Incorporated was held in Nashville, Tennessee at the Opryland Hotel. Though by that date there were other much beloved chapters in and around Music City, The Nashville Chapter of the Links, Incorporated, the chapter that came in before Atlanta Charlotte, Miami, and Birmingham, as well as before the other chapters in Middle Tennessee, was recognized as a chapter whose founding helped to establish The Links as a national organization, and the Nashville Chapter was recognized as a chapter that has stayed true to the roots of its founding.
Former President Edwina Heffner stated the case with empowered, elegance, and efficiency at the time of our fiftieth anniversary,” “We value our relationship with each other, and we value our relationship with the community. Our mission is to serve and to make an impact on the lives of others.” Throughout our history that is what has not changed.
And these are the names of the women who got us started: Alberta Bontemps, Georgia Boyd, Pearl Creswell, Ivanetta Davis, Bess Faulkner, Lurelia Freeman, Marie Johnson, Minerva Hawkins, Hazel Pannell, Ruth Redd, Marion Roberts, Margaret Simms, Jessie West, Edith Work, Charlie Mae Singleton, Jessie Vann, and Elizabeth Walker.
Written by Alice Randall Ewing of the Nashville Chapter of The Links, Incorporated
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